Don’t be scared of WorkSafe

When an experienced worker lost the end of his finger in a workplace incident, Wairarapa business Webstar could have operated from a position of fear of prosecution.  Instead they worked closely and openly with WorkSafe and came out stronger.

The Masterton based printing company, part of the Kiwi-owned marketing solutions company BlueStar, was asked by WorkSafe to carry out an internal ‘Duty Holder Review’ after they reported the incident.

“To be honest I was concerned the process would be difficult, combative and a bit of a drama,” says Webstar Compliance Manager Ray Moore. 

“However, we were pleasantly surprised.”

A Duty Holder Review (DHR) is one of the responses available to WorkSafe when an injury, illness, incident or event is notified under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2016 (HSWA). 

It’s a structured process with a template that helps the business identify underlying causes, improvements and action plans to address them and prevent recurrence.

Staff at Webstar’s Masterton print plant operate large machinery capable of printing and packaging high-volumes at high speed. The company has robust safety protocols and processes in place – but learned that some things could be improved.

The incident happened on a normal shift, where the most experienced worker with some 45 years in the business, was leading the shift.

“It was an incident where a couple of very normal things happened at the same time,” says Ray.

“The stacker had gone down, and at the same time, the printing press waste gate had dropped, an automatic process that kicks in every day, every shift. 

“The team was addressing the stacker but meanwhile the waste bin was full and starting to back up to the top of the conveyor belt and about to jam up, which would blow the belts. Our employee, who had a production schedule to meet, rushed in, reached in to scoop the waste product out onto the floor and cut his finger in the waste gate.”

The team reported the incident immediately, classifying it initially as a cut finger. But the next day. Ray learned that the hospital had had to amputate the end of the employee’s little finger.

“We immediately realised this was a reportable incident and rang WorkSafe. I was apprehensive, thinking that they were going to try to apportion blame and find fault.  But from the minute we called WorkSafe, we felt supported and at ease.  We came to it with an open mind and tried to be transparent with our approach and found WorkSafe very helpful and easy to work with.”

The Duty Holder Review process involved interviewing the staff on the shift, as well as all teams across all other shifts and investigating the waste gate machinery.

“We looked at the other machinery and realised there were risks there too that we addressed. At the end of the day, we discovered that our processes were robust, but there were some gaps.” 

The waste gate part of the machinery was already an identifiable hazard. But as a result of the review process, changes were made to prevent it backing into the belt and make the process safer. 

“Ultimately, we learned there’s a wealth of knowledge on the floor. Everybody who works on the floor has more experience than the guys in the office when it comes to the machinery. They know about the issues and how to operate safely. It’s about talking to your people, and ensuring they have the confidence to come forward and having faith that you will follow through.” 

Ray says despite perceptions that the Duty Holder Review is hard and that WorkSafe is going to prosecute, the opposite is true. 

“It’s a great well-thought out template and process and it’s a lot easier than I thought. WorkSafe staff are fantastic. I knew that if I got stuck, I could lift up the phone any time and get good advice. There’s no blame, no guilt. They’re there to help you. They eased me through the process. 

“Businesses shouldn’t’ be afraid of the Duty Holder Review process. It’s your opportunity to learn, grow and improve your health and safety system.

“As for WorkSafe, I can’t say enough about them, they’re there to try and make our employees safer and to facilitate our job of being a health and safety person and make it easier.

“They always answer the phone and always give you good advice. You come out better. You know a lot more about the business and the culture of staff. It’s an opportunity to learn and grow. 

“I grew through the process, the company grew, and people involved grew too. We all came out of it better people than when we went into it.”

William Beech, WorkSafe Duty Holder Review Officer says WebStar were open and keen to learn.

“They saw the value of engaging with WorkSafe and welcomed my feedback and recommendations.”

Dr. Catherine Gardner, WorkSafe’s National Manager: Interventions and Support, says the Duty Holder Review Team has completed around 2,200 investigations so far and is involved in around 300 serious harm incidents each year. 

“Its focus is on helping businesses learn from their incidents. Businesses have welcomed this initiative and have worked closely with WorkSafe to make improvements to their work practices.” 

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